Winter can be long and brutal in western Wisconsin, and as we move toward another snow-filled month before spring and longer days, many of us are finding ourselves at our wit’s end with the weather. For some, the dark and cold can trigger an imbalance in our mental well-being or mental health.

Although the general perception of mental illness has improved over the past decades, studies show that stigma against mental illness is still powerful, largely due to media stereotypes and lack of education. In addition, people tend to attach negative stigmas to mental health conditions at a far higher rate than to other diseases and disabilities, such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease.

Stigma affects not only the number seeking treatment, but also the number of resources available for proper treatment. Stigma and misinformation can feel like overwhelming obstacles for someone who is struggling with a mental health condition.

Mental health problems are common. According to the website, mentalhealth.gov

  • One in five American adults experienced a mental health issue
  • One in 10 young people experienced a period of major depression
  • One in 25 Americans lived with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It accounts for the loss of more than 41,000 American lives each year, more than double the number of lives lost to homicide. So why does the stigma around mental health still exist?

According to physicians at Vibrant Health Family Clinics, communities have always feared what they didn’t understand. Despite ongoing efforts to educate the public, misconceptions remain.  Concerns can be legitimate, but to break the stigma around mental health, it takes better understanding.

FIVE COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS

  1. You’re either mentally ill or mentally healthy.

Similar to the way a physically healthy person may still experience minor health issues—like bad knees or high cholesterol—a mentally healthy person may experience an emotional problem or two. Mental health is a continuum and people may fall anywhere on the spectrum.

Even if you are doing well, there’s a good chance you aren’t 100% mentally healthy. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates only about 17% of adults are in a state of “optimal” mental health.

  1. Mental illness is a sign of weakness.

Mental strength is not the same as mental health. Just as someone with diabetes could still be physically strong, someone with depression can still be mentally strong. Many people with mental-health issues are incredibly mentally strong. Anyone can make choices to build mental strength, regardless of whether they have a mental health issue.

  1. You can’t prevent mental health problems.

You certainly can’t prevent all mental health problems—factors like genetics and traumatic life events play a role. But everyone can take steps to improve their mental health and prevent further mental illness. This can be done through self-care.

“Establishing healthy habits—eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep, participating in regular exercise—can also go a long way to improving how you feel,” says Debra Sanders, RD, CD, CDE of Vibrant Health Family Clinics.

“Similarly, getting rid of destructive mental habits, like engaging in self-pity or ruminating on the past, can also do wonders for your emotional well-being,” says Brittney Matheson, PA-C and mental health first aid instructor.

  1. People with mental illness are violent.

Unfortunately, when the media mentions mental illness, it’s often in regard to a headline about a mass shooting or domestic violence incident. Although these headlines frequently portray many violent criminals as being mentally ill, most people with mental health problems aren’t violent.

The American Psychological Association reports that only 7.5% of crimes are directly related to symptoms of mental illness. Poverty, substance abuse, unemployment, and homelessness are among the other reasons why people commit violent acts.

  1. Mental health problems are forever.

Not all mental health problems are curable—schizophrenia, for example, doesn’t go away. But most mental health problems are treatable.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that between 70 and 90% of individuals experience symptom relief with a combination of therapy and medication. Complete recovery from a variety of mental health issues is often possible.

“The good news is that the focus is largely going in the right direction, with mental disorders being widely regarded as treatable illnesses. More than anything, this means that those suffering can come forward and get the proper treatment,” said Dr. Greg Miller, family medicine doctor at Vibrant Health.  “Education like the Mental Health First Aid Training is helping educate and better equip our communities to have the critical conversations about mental health with family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Mental Health First Aid is the gap between the person in need and the professional and according to the United Way of St. Croix Valley, Mental Health First Aid Training could be utilized by anybody interested in learning how to listen without judgment.

WHAT IS MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID?

Mental Health First Aid is an internationally recognized evidence-based program that was created and is managed by the National Council for Behavioral Health. It is an eight-hour class that helps you identify, understand, and respond to signs of addiction and mental illnesses. You learn by engaging in the materials and relating what you learn to real-life situations. Role-playing, group discussions, and exercises keep you engaged and allow you to practice helping skills.

Why Take Mental Health First Aid?

  1. To be prepared: Just as you learn CPR, learn how to help in a mental health crisis
    2. Mental illnesses are common: 1 in 5 adults in any given year
    3. You care: be there for a friend, family member, or colleague
    4. You can help: people with mental illnesses often suffer alone

Skills Learned

In the Mental Health First Aid training, you will learn:

  • Risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns
  • Strategies for how to help someone in both crisis and non-crisis situations
  • Where to turn for help
  • Non-judgmental communication and listening skills
  • A 5-step action plan to help someone developing signs and symptoms of a mental illness or in an emotional crisis

Who Should Attend?

The course is for anyone who wants to learn how to provide initial help to someone who may be experiencing symptoms of mental illness or in crisis. The course gives people tools to help friends, family members, colleagues, or others in their community.

  • College/university leaders
  • Educators/school administrators
  • Human resource professionals
  • Nurses/physician assistants/primary care workers
  • Public safety personnel
  • Members of faith communities
  • Social services staff and volunteers
  • Policy makers
  • Substance abuse professionals
  • Social workers
  • Parents

Specific dates and locations for training can be at https://www.unitedwaystcroix.org/mental-health-1st-aid

 Dr. Amber Morgan attended the community Make It OK Community Conversation about Mental Health at the River Falls High School on Tuesday, February 19th.